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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

It's up to Jason Pierre-Paul to make his return from a severe injury a feel-good story

New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul holds

New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul holds his hand between drills while working out during practice, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: AP / Julio Cortez

The time for recriminations is over.

So if you're looking for a screed about Jason Pierre-Paul's poor decision-making skills that led to his July 4 fireworks accident, in which his right hand was nearly blown off, then turn the page. Pierre-Paul knows he did wrong, and anyone in their right mind understands he would have -- and should have -- behaved differently on that fateful night in South Florida. The night his career nearly ended. The night his life nearly ended.

Now is not the time to excoriate the 26-year-old defensive end for all that went wrong. Now is the time to appreciate the fact that he is still walking this earth, and that he is still trying to make right with his life and with his career.

Pierre-Paul returned to the practice field for the first time this season on Wednesday, rejoining his teammates nearly four months after his traumatic injury. He was cheered in a team meeting before practice, looked remarkably fit while doing individual drills off to the side, and couldn't have looked happier to be back in a football uniform.

It was a good day to be Jason Pierre-Paul, and it was a good day for the people around him, too.

"Good to see him smiling and doing what he loves to do," said defensive end Robert Ayers Jr., who has been steadfast and vocal in supporting Pierre-Paul from the start, especially when the accusations of stupidity and jokes about missing fingers started in the aftermath of the accident. "It's really great to see him overcoming the things that he's been going through. It's big."

Pierre-Paul was welcomed back by his football family, and no one inside the Giants' locker room offered a hint of frustration or resentment about his situation -- even if his absence was self-inflicted. If anything, many teammates seemed genuinely impressed at how good Pierre-Paul looked and how happy he seemed. Even if seeing his disfigured hand will take some getting used to.

"You don't want to say, 'Hey, show me' or anything like that," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "But yeah, I definitely tried to peek at it when I could."

And what did Amukamara think?

"Just never seen anything like that," he said. "Just never seen a hand like that before.""He just seems like his perspective on life has changed," the cornerback said. "He's all about his son and right now, he is all about working hard and it seems like he is on a mission."

That mission is a comeback story unlike anything we've ever quite seen, and it should be embraced by anyone who believes in second chances, not mocked by those who see Pierre-Paul as a punchline.

"This world has become a world that loves negative things," Ayers said. "People don't want a feel-good story. They want to point out the negatives. They want to say, 'I told you so.' They want to say, 'Look what this fool did.' Nobody has the heart to accept the fact that he made a mistake."

Actually, people do want a feel-good story, and I have a feeling Pierre-Paul can become one if he manages to overcome his physical impairment, become a functional player again and, most importantly, show himself as a more mature human as a result of the accident.

From talking to the people who know him best, it sounds like Pierre-Paul really has been profoundly influenced by his circumstance, and that he can actually serve as an inspiration to others.

"Honestly, I don't think many people [on the Giants] care what actually happened or what the cause of events were," said linebacker Mark Herzlich, who made a comeback after being treated for cancer during his college career. "I just think people were very worried about him and wanted him to be healthy. It does lift your spirits. We're just happy he's back."

"This is bigger than football," Ayers said. "At the end of the day, he's someone's child, he's someone's brother, he's someone's father, he's someone's fiancee. I'm not going to say he's not going to make any more mistakes, but he's going to appreciate the things he has. That's a tough situation he was in, but I think he's in a good place now."

He's in the right place: back on the football field, back with his teammates. And back with a sense of perspective after dealing with a life-changing event.

He did something very unwise that night, but now is his time for a second chance. It's something worth rooting for.


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